- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

D.C. United entered yesterday’s deciding game of its first-round playoff matchup against the Chicago Fire with a three-game winless streak, a struggling offense and a controversy — the one about Freddy Adu’s playing time.

The bad news got worse, as the defending MLS champion was humiliated by the Fire in a 4-0 season-ending loss before 20,089 at RFK Stadium.

“I don’t want to go into detail about tactics or substitutions, it’s about the heart, it always was,” United coach Peter Nowak said. “If you go into a game like that thinking it’s going to be easy because we are playing at home, we have a lot of lessons to learn here.”

While Nowak and the players said Adu’s comments had not distracted the team, it obviously was an irritant.

“I’m not a priest here to satisfy everyone,” Nowak said. “I will go my way.”

United has yet to beat the Fire in five postseason games. Chicago, which took the two-game series 4-0 on aggregate, will now play the New England Revolution in the conference final, while United will be left to reflect on what could have been.

In the deciding games of four competitions this season — the CONCACAF Cup, Sudamericana, U.S. Open Cup and the MLS playoffs — United has collapsed each time.

“It was not our year,” Dema Kovalenko said. “If you look at our season, you think we had a great season, but at the end of the day, what did we win? We enter four tournaments and we were [expletive].”

From the opening whistle yesterday, United looked unsettled, with Fire striker Chris Rolfe causing all sorts of early trouble for goalie Nick Rimando, who had an awful night. In the third minute, central defender Facundo Erpen went down with an MCL sprain in his right knee, forcing Nowak to make an early substitution and replace the key Argentine with rookie Bobby Boswell.

“You train all week to be ready for something like this, but I never expected to come in the fourth minute,” Boswell said.

In the 10th minute, Chicago scored the only goal it would need when big midfielder Jack Stewart met Thiago’s corner kick at the far post and headed it past the helpless Rimando.

United now had to take the game to the visitors. But in the 23rd minute, Jamil Walker was unable to take advantage of a fine cross from Kovalenko on the left flank. It was endemic of United’s attack all night.

In the 37th minute, Rolfe, a Rookie of the Year candidate, wove his way through United’s box and beat defender Bryan Namoff on the end line to set up a deflected ball for Ivan Guerrero. The Honduran midfielder fired the shot past Rimando to make it 2-0.

Just before halftime, Guerrero finished off United with an amazing 30-yard shot from a Rolfe pass.

After the break, Nowak gambled by replacing Walker and Santino Quaranta with Lucio Filomeno and Freddy Adu, but it only got worse. United’s play-making midfielder, Christian Gomez, was ejected for spitting at defender C.J. Brown after taking a nasty tackle in the box in the 55th minute.

In the 67th minute former United player Jesse Marsch hammered home a superb volley from 12 yards out to hand United one of its most embarrassing losses ever.

“I didn’t think a lot of players played without conviction today,” club president Kevin Payne said.

When asked if Adu would be with the team next season, Payne said: “I can’t imagine Freddy anywhere else.”

Notes — Bulgarian star Hristo Stoitchkov, who played for United (2003) and Chicago (2000-2002), attended last night’s game. The former World Player of the Year now coaches Bulgaria.

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